On Facebook, everyone has a profile picture on their page. It’s a small 1 x 1 picture that each person chooses. It appears in the news feed when you post a status, link, article, or picture. It also appears next to your comment when you comment on someone else’s stuff. The profile picture is a way for your friends to ‘see’ you and not just read your name. The profile picture is also known as an avatar.
Besides on Facebook, I have another avatar on my blog and one on my Twitter account. Every time I tweet, my avatar appears next to my tweet on the news feed of my followers. When I post comments on someone else’s blog, my avatar appears. An avatar is a digital graphic that represents a person or graphical representation of a user. You also choose an avatar when playing video games. The character you choose to ‘play’ is your avatar. In some role play video games, like Dungeons and Dragons, you build an avatar. You select your super powers and build a personality. In some way, an avatar is a digital representation of who you are or want to be.
The movie Avatar is centered around a human having an avatar, but in a very technologically advanced way compared to our current profile pictures or choosing to be Varian Wrynn on World of Warcraft. The Avatar in the movie is the ultimate virtual reality experience.
The movie is based in the year 2154 when humans have developed interplanetary travel and cryogenics. The humans have set up a colony on the planet Pandora and are mining for resources needed for the dying planet Earth. A diplomacy initiative is formed to learn from and teach the native people called the Na’vi. Because the environment of Pandora cannot support human life, Avatars are created for humans to virtually live with the native Na’vi. The Avatars are the ones who will research the planet and interact with the native people.
A select few humans are chosen for the Avatar program. An Avatar is developed for each human in the program. Using advanced genetic engineering, an Avatar is created using the genetically modified DNA of the human combined with Na’vi genetic material. The human is psionically linked through the nervous system to his or her Avatar then is free to live as the Avatar from remote control operation.
Jake Sully is one of the ones chosen for the program. On his first day out of the colony, Jake’s Avatar gets separated from his group and is left in the wilderness overnight to defend himself with little knowledge of the planet. That evening, Jake is rescued by Neytiri, a young native woman. He is chosen to go and live among the native tribe of the Omaticaya people. None of the Avatars have been allowed this access to the life of the native people.
Jake is given permission by the human colony to live with the Omaticaya people for 3 months. During that time, Jake will be Neytiri’s student. Her family, who are the tribal leaders, has given her their blessing to teach him all of the Omaticaya ways. Most of all, Jake will learn the people’s deep connection to nature. He learns to bond with animals, hunt, rest, travel, eat, fall with grace. He is also taught their spirituality learning to pray, bless animals who will be eaten, and to defend the sacred.
During his 3 month initiation, he begins to lose track of reality. He doesn’t know if life as a human or life as the Avatar are real. He chooses to go through the ceremony of being recognized as a man of the tribe and a brother to the tribal people. He learned their ways and became one of them. Ultimately, he gives up his human energy, ceases to be a human, and becomes wholly Omaticaya.
I think Jake’s fictionaly journey of becoming Omaticaya is much like our spiritual journey of becoming a Christian. Jake had lived a human life by human standards then became a disciple of the Omaticaya tribe. He committed himself to their way of life. He finally dedicated himself totally to this new way of life and gave up living the old way. We too learn to Christ’s Way before dedicating ourselves to living by a new standard. That’s what this text today is about. It’s about dedicating ourselves wholly to being a Christian.
Jesus was traveling on His way to Jerusalem and begins to teach His followers the cost of discipleship. He had more than the Disciples with him and He was trying to thin the crowds out to who could actually make the sacrifice to be a true follower. For his followers, there is a danger that they will fail to meet the demands of discipleship. Jesus encourages them to deliberately consider what it means to be a follower because the way of discipleship is not an easy one. Choosing to become a disciple without careful reflection is the action of a fool.
In 3 different verses in this text, Jesus makes the point that there is a standard to be met to be a disciples. In v. 26, He says, “whoever comes to me and does not”. In v. 27, He says, “whoever does not” and in v. 33, He says, “none of you can who are unwilling.” He uses 4 images to make his point about sacrifice. He uses family, a cross, a building project, and a war which seem to have nothing to do with one another but have everything to do with discipleship.
First, He says a disciple must be willing to “hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sister.” Hate is a strong word. In this instance, hate is not about anger. Disciples are called to put the demands of discipleship ahead of their family. Jesus means that “there is no duty higher than commitment to [Him] and to being His disciple.” Discipleship often required followers to leave home with limited provisions to travel from village to village proclaiming the Good News.
Jesus’ second image is that of the cross. Jesus has made another warning in the Gospel of Luke that bearing the name disciple means being willing to carry the cross of sacrifice. A disciple must be willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. I’d go on further on this point, but that’s a whole other sermon.
Jesus’ final 2 images are of prudence suggesting that people who decide to take on the life of discipleship make a prudent decision. First, Jesus says deciding to become a disciple is a decision much like a person who would not begin a project he or she cannot finish. Second, Jesus says deciding to become a disciple is a decision much like a person who would not start a war they cannot win. Jesus may not be advocating for building new buildings or starting new wars. Jesus is admonishing followers to decide if the commitment to discipleship is something they can finish or win. It is foolish to begin something you don’t think you can see through to the end.
Jesus is asking His followers to make a lifelong commitment. This goes beyond enthusiasm caught by group thinking. An unexamined commitment is hollow and will not be accepted. Its an all or nothing commitment being asked of disciples. Its no longer about traveling the countryside watching Jesus do cool things and listening to His teachings. This is the invitation to put your money where your mouth is, to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
I think some churches, preachers, and TV evangelists sell the Gospel to be something cheap. The Gospel is a one-way ticket to Heaven easily accepted by saying the right words one time. The preacher tells people that if you do this or that then God will bestow blessings upon believers including peace, health, and prosperity. The problem is those believers tend to think they aren’t good enough Christians if they get sick or aren’t wealthy.
Our commitment to the Gospel is a reflection of God’s commitment to us. We don’t do it because we expect anything in return. We make a commitment to Jesus Christ because we know God loves us and offers us grace in the resurrection. We have to be careful not to buy cheap Christianity that doesn’t require more than occupying a pew on Sunday mornings in exchange for a trouble-free life.
Making the type of commitment Jesus asks of us is a sacrifice. We are called to live a life which shows we claim the promises He made and share the values He taught. Being a disciple is not just being offended when a fight ensues to remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance. Discipleship is about being committed to the things Jesus found important, like criminal justice, food stability, healthcare and housing for the marginalized and forgiveness for failure to respect human dignity.
I came across a quote this week. I think it addresses the pitfalls of churches who don’t take seriously the demands of discipleship. Charles Allen, in “You Are Never Alone” wrote this,
“I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release. I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick, and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless, and you preached to me the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely, and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God, but I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.”
Some churches like to sit around and talk about the problems of the world. They don’t know the true sacrifice of discipleship. Discipleship means being willing to carry your cross into the places where Jesus was willing to go addressing the issues Jesus addressed. We, on the other hand, take seriously the demands of discipleship. We are reaching out to the community addressing the needs of our neighbors. We each have personally and as a congregation have started a journey that we know we will remain committed to.